Any G.O.T. fans will know exactly what that heading means…… but I have a slightly different slant on it. In my last blog, ‘Living with a death sentence’ I asked the question, how do you tell someone they’ve only got 3 weeks to live. Well, I can now answer that for myself. Quite simply, you don’t!
The first couple of weeks were quite surreal. I moved in with my mum to look after her and boy did she love it. I waited on her hand and foot – and I didn’t mind. She told anyone who would listen that she was being treated like a queen. I was here permanently, with the rest of the family popping in and out regularly. The hardest part was the lack of sleep. Those who know me well, will know that I’m a bit of an insomniac, but this took it to the next level. Mum just wouldn’t sleep. She was scared. Scared that if she closed her eyes, she wouldn’t open them again. And that was hard. The constant reassurance that she wasn’t alone and not to worry. I’d maybe get her to go to bed for an hour, then she’d be up for two, then back for another hour and so on. So by the end of week 1, I was physically knackered.
Every day, I’d shower and dress her, and I tried to make sure she got out, if only for a wee while. My sister took over ‘bingo’ duties, taking my mum on a Tuesday and Friday – giving me a chance to catch up with work, although it’s hard to concentrate when you’re sleep deprived. The family stepped in at the weekend as I’d weddings to conduct, and all in all, apart from this big black cancerous cloud hanging over our heads, life for mum went on as normal, apart from the breathlessness. One thing that she did say was that she never realised that cancer was so painful.
We had some of those ‘difficult’ conversations – the ones where my brother and sister would burst into tears at the mere mention of the word funeral. But it had to be done, and so I broached the subject. We had many a conversation in the dark lonely hours of the night, that gave me a better understanding and insight into my mum, and how she thought. I found out a lot of things about her that I’d never known before, her hopes and dreams for her life, and her biggest regrets. And I felt sad for her. Sad that she’d never accomplished half of what she wanted to.
We also skirted round the ‘how long have I got’ conversation. Mum said she didn’t want to know, but she’d ask things like ‘will I be here for Christmas’ or ‘what are we doing for Molly’s 16th ‘. I answered as best as I could, never once saying ‘oh mum, you’ll not be here’. But part of me thinks she must have known. How could she not? Logically, me moving in with her should have been an indicator that it was imminent, or maybe it never crossed her mind.
The horrible part of it all was the clock watching. Every day I’d look at her and think ‘is today the day’. And when she told me at the start of week 2 how well she was feeling – better than she had in years, you start to question everything. Have the doctors got it wrong? She should be feeling worse instead of better. The district nurses (who were amazing) were in regularly, we’d one visit from a MacMillan nurse, who I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed with, and mum’s doctor phoned and came in once a week. All remarked on how well she looked, with her doctor even saying, just 4 days ago, that she didn’t look like someone who was away to die. She was still eating, smoking like a trooper and transfixed to Challenge TV. I swear, if I’d had to watch one more re-run of Dale’s Supermarket Sweep, you’d have had to order me a straitjacket!
And then suddenly, she went downhill. She didn’t want to go to Bingo on Friday, and for those who knew my mum, they’ll know that she’d rather cut off her legs than miss her bingo day out. Her pain got worse, she wasn’t able to swallow her tablets and they had to put a cannula in to give her pain medication. And she still refused to go to bed. It was like bargaining with a petulant child. Come on mum, you’re exhausted. We’d agree she could have one more cigarette, while she watched Millionaire, then it was bed. Programme finished, she’d cross her arms, pout and say no! If I did get her to bed, it would be for all of 7 minutes, before she demanded to get up for a ciggie again. She developed a sense of humour at age 81, something she’d kept hidden my entire life, and was quite amusing. But finally, with the aid of the district nurses, we finally managed to get her into bed. And you know what, she was right. She closed her eyes and didn’t open them again. Within 2 hours of going to bed, mum slipped away peacefully.
So now my watch has ended……….
At the point of diagnosis, the oncologist told us that mum had 2 months max to live, but in his opinion, given the advanced stage, 3 weeks was more realistic. He was pretty much spot on. 3 weeks and 2 days. Wonder if he does the National Lottery?